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Myanmar

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Cyclone fizzles, spares Myanmar

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh – Cyclone Mahasen weakened Thursday afternoon into a tropical storm and then dissipated, causing far less damage than had been feared as it passed over Bangladesh and spared Myanmar almost entirely, meteorological officials said.

At least 45 deaths related to Mahasen were reported in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, but officials had prepared for a far greater storm. Bangladesh evacuated 1 million people from coastal areas, and the United Nations warned that 8.2 million people could face life-threatening conditions.

The cyclone lost power as it shed huge amounts of rainfall and then veered west of its predicted path, sparing major Bangladeshi population areas, including Chittagong and the seaside resort of Cox’s Bazar, said Mohammad Shah Alam, director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department.

Coastal regions were also spared major damage because the storm hit during low tide, which meant there was no major tidal surge, he said.

“Thank God we have been spared this time,” local government administrator Ruhul Amin said.

The storm left minimal damage in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where officials were having trouble evacuating tens of thousands of displaced Rohingya people.

“It’s all over, and we are very relieved that we didn’t have any unfortunate incident in Rakhine state due to the cyclone,” Win Myaing, Rakhine’s regional spokesman, said.

In Cox’s Bazar, tens of thousands of people had fled shanty homes along the coast and packed into cyclone shelters, hotels, schools and government office buildings. But by Thursday afternoon, the sun was shining and Amin said he planned to close the shelters by the evening.

The storm’s slow movement toward Bangladesh gave the government plenty of warning to get people to safety, Amin said.

“But for the evacuation, the casualties would have been higher,” he said.

In addition, river ferries and boat services were suspended, and scores of factories near the choppy Bay of Bengal were closed. The military said it kept 22 navy ships and 19 air force helicopters at the ready. By Thursday night, ferry service had resumed.

A 1991 cyclone that slammed into Bangladesh from the Bay of Bengal killed an estimated 139,000 people and left millions homeless. In 2008, Myanmar’s southern delta was devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which swept away entire farming villages and killed more than 130,000 people. Both those cyclones were much more powerful than Mahasen, which hit land with maximum wind speeds of about 62 mph and quickly weakened, said Alam, the meteorological official.

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